NYC Made Me a Better Parent

by Jessica Shyba on July 13, 2012

in Bay Area,Lifestyle,New York,Parenting

It was nearly three years ago exactly that we were preparing to move our family to New York City. I remember how I felt about leaving our cozy little town chalk full of family and support network. It wasn’t exactly terror, it wasn’t even completely fearful. Anticipation and uncertainty flooded every single pore and molecule of my body, no doubt emanating from me onto my husband and even my children. It is a state of being that I will never visit again, yet I’ve carefully encased those feelings to take on the rest of my journey as a memento of how much I’ve grown.

I’ll never forget google-street-viewing our potential neighborhoods from all the way across the country, perched in our cute, yet modest home surrounded by our sweet and safe little town. My children were babies, so accustomed to seeing their family on a nearly daily basis, walking with me down the clean sidewalks of our neighborhood picking flowers and swimming in the outdoor pool at the local athletic club. It was the picture of a normal suburban life, and I was very content in my security being there with my new and growing family.
We recently arrived back home in Manhattan after spending three weeks in our familiar little bubble-like town, and I was positively itching to get back. I am no longer the person I was when we left. In fact, I can barely identify with that person at all, and while it’s not like I’m ashamed of who I was, I can say with certainty that moving to New York City made me a better parent, and a better person.

This city is riddled with stigmas: People are mean, everyone is in a hurry, the streets are dangerous. Of course, some of that is true but largely-at least where we’re living in the Gramercy area-I haven’t found that to be true at all, relatively speaking. It’s these labels that scared me before we uprooted and left California. In fact, it’s been my experience that the people that live here in Manhattan are much kinder and empathetic than the ever-entitled residents of our hometown in the Bay Area. In an area that sees thousands of people from all walks of life racing to and from different areas of their lives, there is a level of humanity unlike anything I’ve ever been around. Strangers have rushed to fold my stroller while I get into a cab with the kids, a young man once chased me down after noticing that a wad of dollars had fallen out of my pocket, and countless people have helped us through the snow, or into stores, or even crossing the street. Yet it isn’t the help I was needing at the time, it was the feeling that no matter how alone I felt, there was someone there, someone watching. Someone caring.

What ended up changing wasn’t the people around me however, it was the level of trust that I had built into myself. The second I realized that I was in charge of myself and my family everything got easier. The fact that I wasn’t relying on anyone to come to our rescue when we needed dinner on the table and I wasn’t able to get to the grocery store or our student loan check hadn’t come in on time. Somewhere in the early moments of desperation that frequently brought me to tears, I learned that I had everything I needed to survive and care for my family.

These lessons came from living in one of the biggest cities in the world, living without a car, without a job, without an actual income. Raising three children in the teeny corner of a high-rise apartment building with a husband saddled with the stress of succeed-or-perish dental school demands and with very, very few breaks of any kind. We learned to ride the subways and busses with thirty people in our direct personal space at all times, and to grocery shop while piling food on top of the stroller while warning and corraling the kids to stay close to me or else.

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My children… Oh how I wish and hope and pray that they retain some of the the life and experiences that we have had, from the very exciting to the ever typical. I hope they remember that they were never discriminate in their kindness to strangers. They smile and say hello to anyone they please, regardless of any facet of that person’s appearance. We’ve all learned patience, endurance and empathy beyond everything else, while waiting for the elevator, or sitting still until the bus or car comes to a halt, or walking to and from wherever we needed to go in extreme temperatures. Above all else, I hope they remember the love that we had for our life here, despite the sometimes scary things that have happened. The times that I ran with Jack to the Emergency Room for his allergies, or when we watched them fish the helicopter out of the East River, when our building was evacuated during the hurricane, or even the story Jack was told about the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

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I hope they think of New York City fondly and remember the fun we had every single day, no matter if we were stuck in our apartment during a snow or rain storm or if we were in a theater watching a Broadway show. It hasn’t always been easy living here, but the greatest struggle of our move to Manhattan has taught me so much about adapting, accepting, and appreciating things even in the hardest and best of times.

I remember the day I finally considered myself a New Yorker. It took just over two years to feel like I’d earned my city stripes. And, it was at the very same time that I realized I was becoming the parent I’d hoped I would be, and the person I wanted to be.

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I won’t forget. I’m so proud of our journey and so grateful to call this city our home, even if it’s for less than a year longer.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex (@clippo) July 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm

I really admire the bravery it takes to move like this. It is truly inspiring.

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Nancy July 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm

You’re kinda freakin’ me out here. Like you’re leaving already! Don’t talk like it’s already over. BE here. We’ll take you as long as we can have you.

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CK July 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm

We uprooted from NA to Switzerland about two months after the idea was mentioned! We too gave up our 3000+ sq ft house, two cars, family, etc. in exchange for two bedroom flat and an umbrella stroller… had to convert to a dinky stroller for all our walk-abouts and errand fetching as we live on a fourth floor of a walkup!! I went into the situation a little differently… was excited and not apprehensive! Only let down… living in the German speaking part of Switzerland! I speak French and was hoping this region was somewhat French! We do vacay in the French regions of Switzerland though to help with feeling so foreign!

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Jana (@jana0926) July 13, 2012 at 6:42 pm

This is beautiful Jessica. Just beautiful.

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Lorette Lavine July 14, 2012 at 12:56 am

Life in NYC is like no other place…you express it so well. It is still the City that defined me as a young child into adulthood. This is a wonderful post and NYC has now defined you…you will take it with you wherever you go.

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wendy @ mama one to three July 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Your experience speaks so much to the kind of person you already were when you arrived in New York, friend–compassionate, energetic, open and creative. I think more than anything, our city brings out the best and strongest of who we are.

This is beautifully written, Jessica–but please stop reminding me that you’re leaving, okay? ;) xoxo

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Jessie July 15, 2012 at 7:24 am

Love this. I also love having my 8 mo old to raise in the city. The thought of living anywhere else kinda freaks me out because I have a system for how to do things and I like it. The city is a great place to be!

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Elizabeth Aronson July 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm

We just decided that this will also be our last year in NYC (after 10 and 12 years respectively). We are moving back to my hometown of Austin, Texas and will be close to my parents which is going to be amazing for us and the kids but it’s also sad. You did a great job explaining how NYC changes you as a person and a mom. I delivered both my sons here and Ben will have spent his first 4 years as a true city kid (but I think deep down he’s a country boy at heart). We leave next June- when are you guys heading back to California? Thanks for this post- it came at a perfect time for me.

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Angella July 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm

This is a beautiful post and I love how your love of the city shines through, too.

I went the other way – city girl to small town/country girl (complete with chickens!), but I sure do love the city. Can’t wait to be in yours again in two weeks!

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Mamaintheburbs July 15, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Beautifully written post! Your children’s eyes are always filled with such a sparkle! They are going to have such amazing memories of life in the big city. And it sounds like they already have such a greater appreciation for things around them- thanks to their wonderful mom. I grew up in NY and there is no other city in the world that compares. I miss it everyday.

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tracy July 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm

LOVE this. Just perfect.

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abra July 18, 2012 at 2:37 am

it has been amazing to get to know nyc through your lens. i’m so glad you and your family experienced it. it definitely encourages me to get out of my comfort zone and embrace!

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Courtney July 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Very inspiring post! I hope to move my family to NYC one day, and your post shows me that it is possible, even if it’s a daunting thought.

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Kelly C July 18, 2012 at 10:34 pm

I absolutely adore your blog and this post. I’m originally from PA and travelled to NYC often. I love NYC. I think it’s the best city on the entire planet. I live in Orlando, Fl now..but we still try to make NYC trips often. I’ve loved reading about your adventures in the city, and I’m surely going to miss reading about it in less than a year. :(

I have a quick question for you. I’ve taken my small children to NYC on several trips…and the one thing that is hardest for us is how FAST everyone walks. It’s not difficult for my husband and I, we’re used to it..but the kids find it tough. I hate saying “hurry up” or “someone is right behind you, don’t lag” or “you have to walk fast in this city.” It’s not fair to the little ones. Do you find this a difficult part of living in the city with small children who choose to walk (or scoot, LOL)?

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Vanessa Smith July 20, 2012 at 7:39 am

What a beautiful post. I lived in NYC for 4 1/2 glorious years and look back on that time as some of the best years of my life. I now have a daughter and live in a sleepy Bay Area suburb (probably very close to your hometown, from your descriptions) and the slow pace here has been really tough to adapt to. Once in a New Yorker, always a New Yorker…as you will find out !

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Marta July 20, 2012 at 10:31 pm

What a beautiful post. Honestly, I would never have wanted to live in NYC for the reasons you listed (with kids), but after reading this I think about all that I’m missing out living in my suburban town in Minnesota. I think there are so many experiences we won’t ever have just from not having that true city life.

Also, I love your new cover photo on your blog! LOVE it.

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Monica July 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm

This is beautiful…and a reminder of why I love this city so much. I too think that I’m a better parent from having to navigate it all by myself in this city. And just when I think the going is too tough, a selfless stranger makes my day so much better. I heart NYC – thanks for reminding me of that. Beautiful story.

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HeliMom August 1, 2012 at 11:35 pm

There’s no place like home!

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Laura August 3, 2012 at 1:53 am

I hope that I am writing a post like this in 3 years! There seem to be so many parallels: we just moved from California (LA) to New York (Gramercy Park) for a 3-year residency at NYU with 2 kids (1 & 3); I have no job, friends, or family here. But I am getting adjusted and feel that things are working out. I have definitely found people in our neighborhood to be so helpful and friendly, especially towards the kids. Thanks for the inspiration!

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stefanie August 22, 2012 at 2:45 am

So glad I found your site. I have been questioning my parenting and the amount of traveling I make my family do each year. Though I love it, I wonder, am I giving enough attention, time, care to what they need in their lives right now? Reading this story, and some of your other ones solidifies that being able to provide this opportunity to our children opens their minds and hearts, and that’s not something they can get if they never leave the comfort of their own homes. Thanks!

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Elaine A. September 11, 2012 at 6:51 pm

You’ve inspired me to write more about our move. Although not to such an amazing place, it was definitely a culture shock in some ways. And well, anything that is different that the “norm” you are used to takes courage and the ability to adapt. We done good, my friend. :) Excellent post.

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Old School/New School Mom September 27, 2012 at 11:33 pm

As a native New Yorker, I really appreciated this post. You’re absolutely right; there are stigmas associated with New Yorkers that are false. Not everyone here is mean. Of course there are mean people, but you encounter that everywhere. I’ve also found that strangers often help me with my stroller. And lady, come to Brooklyn sometime, strangers always want to help you. I don’t miss living on the UWS at all.

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LT October 18, 2012 at 10:49 pm

I can’t begin to express how happy I am that I stumbled upon your blog and if I were more superstitious I would say that this find was more akin to luck or devine favor rather than chance. My husband and I can relate to the situation you describe in several of your blog posts except he is one month post grad-school with his first job and we are preparing to re-pay loans. Though I should add that I am in the process of submitting applications to transfer here and we will begin to take out more loans in order to survive the next several years. Aside from that aspect we have a two year old and had no idea of the pre-k culture here in manhattan prior to our big move from VA. This experience has been so overwhelming and as I am approaching one month here, I will say I still don’t feel settled and I really can’t wait until it feels like home. anyway, I just thought I would drop a line and share a little bit about my situation as it sounds so similar to you three years ago!

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Yvonne August 23, 2013 at 7:18 pm

It was a pleasure, an a welcoming comfort to read about your experience. I only imaging that some of the weight and brevity is lost on some, whose experiences limit them from understanding your journey on a more personal level. Despite that little assumption of min, I have enjoyed your experience. I am a native New Yorker who has had a similar experience in the south. This was the on time jolt of, get yourself together that I needed to refocus my energy.
Thanks for sharing!

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Fatima November 17, 2013 at 5:27 am

This post is wonderfully inspiring. Thank you for sharing! I just moved this year from the Bay Area to NY and married the love of my life. It’s a new adventure living here, having left all my family & friends on the West Coast, and it’s cool to know others like yourself have done the same and have made the East Coast a place to truly call home.

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Jessica February 26, 2014 at 3:35 am

Wow, this totally made me cry. My name is Jessica as well, and my family and I moved from So Cal to Astoria, Queens almost a year ago. It has been the craziest year of my life, I always say I feel like the snow globe of my life got completely shaken up moving here. Things are much more settled now, but I can 1000% agree with your entire post. Living here has changed me, permanently. I’ll never be the same Jessica I was, even if we move back to CA, and I’m so grateful for what this city has done to help me grow into the woman and mom I am today. NYC will always hold a special place in my heart for that. Thank you for such a beautifully worded post, I could not have said it better myself. Not by a long shot. :)

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